We've spent less time delving into the larger question of Dominican identity. What defines this place as a culture and as a country? Its status as neighbor of Haiti? Its status as a colony founded by the Spanish? (Elementary school history highlight: Columbus' first landing in the New World was right here on Hispaniola! The cathedral that is a few steps away from my hotel here in the Colonial Zone is apparently the oldest Catholic church in the western hemisphere.) Its role vis a vis the sugar industry? What about by way of its relationship with the United States?
Alan Klein, in his book Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice, argues that the key to understanding the US relationship with the DR is an understanding of the role that baseball plays in Dominican history, culture, and economics.
You'll have to read the book (or talk to me on my return when I'll hopefully have finished it!) for Klein's comprehensive answer to those questions. But suffice it to say, he make s a compelling argument that baseball in the DR can be read in two fundamentally different ways: (1) as just another example of American exploitation of Dominican capital; OR (2) as an ingenious Dominican response to American cultural and economic hegemony, by creating something that can take those American forces of influence and transform them into something that is wholly and uniquely Dominican.
To further investigate these questions, and Klein's thesis, five of my traveling companions and I bought tickets for tonight's Game 2 of the Dominican Republic's Series FInal (their national World Series!).
The first thing we noticed was the calendar...Why in the world does the DR play baseball in January?
Answer: as a result of pressure from Major League Baseball (MLB) dating back to the early 1950s. As the MLB began to build its pipeline of Dominican players coming to the States, it wanted to be able to send coaches and other support staff to check in on Dominican player development. As a result: an agreement that the top tier Dominican ball clubs would only play in the winter.
We also noticed the price of the tickets. The tenth row seats at third base that we had were far cheaper than virtually anything we'd pay for at an American stadium during the regular season, let alone the postseason. And yet, I was also aware that the seat I was sitting in was totally and completely unaffordable to the average Dominican. Shockingly, 50% of the country lives below the poverty line. Even more disturbing: the poverty line here is defined as earning less than $1.25 per day (Klein, p. 8). Given the high cost of my tickets, relative to the earnings of the bottom 50% of the Dominican population, I was aware of, and saddened by, the impossibly wide distance between those that have, and those that do not.
Finally, my visit to the game highlighted the much-talked about objectification of women that has long been a part of Dominican life. (Our group moves leaves Santo Domingo today for Haina, where we will meet with a women's advocacy organization.) Three quick examples of how that disturbing objectification was on display:
- I'm not sure if it was because of the section we were sitting in, or if this is true in all of the sections of the stadium (Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal is more akin to an American minor league stadium...holding about 11,000 fans) - but there was a waitress who was assigned to our section specifically for drinks (including alcohol). I was surprised and upset by the fact that male fans (some of them inebriated as the game went on) were entirely comfortable getting her attention by reaching out and touching her shoulders or arms and gently grabbed her....to bring her closer so that she could hear their order. She did not seem to outwardly mind, but it struck me (based on my own values) to be invasive and aggressive of her personal space.
- As we exited the stadium and headed to the parking lot, we passed by the tent of the postgame broadcasting team. Two guys were sitting at a desk giving their analysis of the game. The postgame show was apparently sponsored by Coca Cola. So: standing right next to them was a 'spokesmodel' - an attractive young woman in a tight-fitting red dress with a Coke logo...who stood there...on camera just next to the analysts for an open-ended period of time. It made me think of the archaic American custom of spokesmodels at car dealerships....which I still saw "in action" during a recent visit to an auto show.
- Finally, there were the dancers! I guess the closest sports comparison that I can think of here is the notion of watching cheerleaders at an NFL game. I have plenty of gender and labor-based concerns about that. But what I saw last night was in a whole different ballpark (pun intended). This was a troupe of about six or seven female dancers who danced on top of the home team's dugout at the end of every other inning. Their "dancing" was beyond sexually suggestive. I'm struggling to find exactly the right words for it....You'll have to use your imagination. Suffice it to say, I don't think I'd be comfortable bringing my kids to a setting like that.
The good news: it was a great ballgame. The Lions beat the Tigers 6-4.
The bad news: there is an awful lot of tikkun that still needs to be done to insure that women are treated with respect in this society. Good thing my work with AJWS continues this morning on that front.
In the meantime, enjoy the video below - my recording of their rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the Seventh Inning Stretch last night. If you look carefully, you can see the aforementioned dancers on top of the dugout. Their dance routine here is much more G-rated!